The plight of the navigator

Forget road rage, says Matthew Gwyther, it's Map Rage that's consuming our drivers
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The Independent Culture
WITH the frenzied discussion of road rage over the last couple of years, another source of automotive aggro has been over-looked. This is the upset that occurs not between drivers of different cars but between driver and navigator in the same vehicle. This is the far older scourge of Map Rage.

We've all experienced it - couples on a gentle weekend outing nearly coming to blows as the turning for the B4595 is missed. To the driver such idiocy is inexplicable. To the passenger the pilot is unreason personified. Even rally crews have been known to have the odd barney.

There is no doubt that we all get lost an awful lot out on the road. A study of drivers' navigational abilities in the US found that in unfamiliar areas navigational breakdown can account for 20 per cent of the mileage covered and 40 per cent of the total driving time. This leads to serious in-car grief. Ask Matthew Joint, the AA's behavioural analyst.

"Just 24 hours spent collecting anecdotal evidence from friends and colleagues started to reveal the extent of the problem," says Joint. "The sort of comments I collected included: `The car would swerve over and he would rip the A to Z from my hands...only to find that we were on the right road anyway' and `The last time I navigated for my husband we were trying to find our way through central London. I ended up hitting him with the atlas. Now I just refuse to help him.'

"Sharing the task with a passenger should make things easier," says Joint. "However many drivers tend to have unreasonable expectations."

No study of Map Rage can avoid the ticklish subject of the difference between the sexes. The sitcom stereotype is always of the wife in the passenger seat who makes a hash of Spaghetti Junction with the result that she, her husband and the Maxi wind up in Bromley.

There's bad news for supporters of political correctness. Psychologists - Matthew Joint included - believe that males have the upper hand when it comes to "visual-spatial skills"; i.e. they really are better at getting from A to B than girls. Joint is keen to distance himself from the branch of his profession that thinks it's all to do with hormones and brain development during the foetal period. He thinks boys are simply taught to be more at home with maps and exploring.

Not that Chaps into Maps are the most thrilling bunch around. There can be few cocktail party encounters more tedious than the bore who recounts at length the quickest way from Andover to Tunbridge Wells, avoiding that "nasty little snarl-up" in Guildford.

David Green is an interesting Map Chap, being editor of the British Cartographic Society Journal and a lecturer at Aberdeen University. He sees signs of a deeper orienteering malaise. "A lot of people, especially the young, just can't read maps to save their lives," he moans. "I've got a number of students who arrive here totally unable to read an Ordnance Survey sheet."

Help may be at hand. The National Curriculum requires that children be able to practice geographical skills. So, by the year 2020 when we are all driving around in our quiet electric cars, their interiors will be a picture of harmony too. !